Preparing Lawn for Winter
What is good for a Ontario lawn wouldn’t make sense for a lawn in Northern British Columbia. But with a little research and a climate-appropriate approach, any lawn can weather the change of season. To help with this task, this is how you prepare your lawn for winter.
Cut Off the Water
First and foremost, you don’t need as much water on your lawn now as you did over the summer. Change your irrigation schedule if you haven’t already. Of course, your irrigation strategy will depend on where you live. Regardless of whether you have a warm-weather or cool-weather lawn, you should change your water usage over the winter. With that in mind, here are a couple climate specifics for winter lawn water usage.
In Northern climates, stop irrigation completely. If you live farther north, you should stop using sprinklers entirely. They simply aren’t needed. Plus, if they go off just before a big freeze, your lawn will suddenly become a sheet of ice. Also, completely drain your sprinkler system because the pipes can freeze and burst. Most modern sprinkler systems come with auto-draining valves, making this an easy job. If you aren’t sure about how to drain your particular system, contact the manufacturer in order to avoid a costly replacement in the future.
Rake Your Leaves
You should aim to keep up with your raking all autumn because it’s an absolute must when it comes to winterizing. A thick carpet of wet leaves — especially if they eventually freeze — will destroy your lawn, turning it into a large patch of dirt come spring. Even though the work can be intense, raking is probably the most important thing you can do to winterize your lawn. Plus, you can always use those leaves as compost, turning them into rich soil in the future.
If you’re lucky enough to only have a light layer of leaves, consider mowing them instead of raking them. A small amount of well-chopped leaves can serve as a compost layer, feeding your lawn during the cooler months. As long as leaves aren’t going to get weighed down from snow or ice over the winter, you can use them to your advantage. Plus, if you use a mulching mower, you can spread leaves more evenly across your entire lawn.
Give Your Lawn Another Dose of Fertilizer
You should give your lawn a good fertilizing in either late summer or early fall. Late fall is another great time to feed your lawn, as well. It'll be ready to suck up anything you give it. Aim to provide your lawn with all the nutrients it desires, so it will come back green and lush in the spring.
Cut Your Grass
Your grass probably won’t be growing too much through October and November. Regardless, you should trim your grass short just before winter. The best approach to late autumn mowing varies depending on where you live. With that in mind, here is a quick summary of the best regional mowing approaches:
Overseed Throughout the Autumn
Overseeding involves spreading a layer of grass seed over existing turf. If any areas of your lawn are thinning or need attention, make sure to lay seed before it gets too cold.
Dethatch, If You Haven’t Already
Like overseeding, dethatching can easily be done throughout the fall. If you’re doing a final raking, you can simultaneously do a final dethatching. Thatch is the layer of dead grass that collects between the soil and the grass foliage.
If your lawn has too much thatch built up, the grass won’t get the nutrients it needs. This is especially important during the winter when grass is hibernating. Rent a vertical mower or use a specialty thatch rake to pull up the thatch and dispose of it with your final collection of autumn leaves. And remember, the longer you put off dethatching, the harder the job will become. Don’t be afraid to start right away.
Pull Out Your Annuals
Annuals, by definition, die every year. The dead plants will discourage growth come spring and can become homes for lawn- and garden-killing insects, so remove your annuals before winter starts. Pull them up, making sure to include the roots, and add them to your compost pile.
Mulch the Perennials
While annuals die in the winter, perennials merely go dormant. To prepare these plants for winter, apply a layer of mulch. It’s a good idea to mulch throughout the autumn. Also, raked leaves can be easily chopped up for this purpose. If you’ve been planning ahead, you might already be set. But if you haven’t mulched yet, now is the time.
Remember that dormant perennials look a lot like dead annuals, so don’t accidentally pull out perennials before they can spring back next year.
Add Organic Matter
This is also the perfect time to add organic matter to your garden beds, such as the following:
Adding organic matter to your soil can dramatically improve its health for the next growing season. If you add these materials at the end of autumn, they’ll have time to break down and become part of the soil in the spring, making it more productive when you’re ready to plant new annuals or vegetables.
Don’t Forget Your Compost Pile
A good compost pile is alive and active, even throughout the winter, but you need to keep up the internal temperature. A nice layer of straw or leaves will help insulate the pile. Plus, it will keep your compost from getting too wet. Keep turning and mixing the pile. By staying on top of your compost maintenance, you’ll have rich soil come spring.
Also, remember not to include any diseased or insect-infested plants in your compost pile. You don’t want to return diseased plants to the soil through your compost. If you have any plants that are infested with pests or pathogens, destroy and dispose of them separately.
Prune and Protect Trees and Shrubs
If you live in cooler climates, you should prune back your trees and shrubs before the winter comes. Not only will this keep your trees healthy, but a well-pruned landscape is easier on your lawn. Overgrown trees and shrubs will block the sun, leaving portions of your lawn sun-starved come spring.
Check with your local garden center about the proper pruning time for your particular plants. Different plants and trees need to be pruned at different times.
If your yard receives strong icy winds, you can make a burlap screen around young or evergreen trees to give them a little more protection from the cold weather.
Lastly, Leave the Snow
When it snows, you must plow your sidewalks and driveway, but try to avoid plowing the grass. If you regularly plow the area of your lawn that borders the pavement, you may have noticed that this grass is patchy in the spring. That’s because snow protects your lawn throughout the winter. The area that has been exposed won’t be protected, so it will lag behind your other grass when spring arrives. Plus, plows and shovels can gouge and damage your sensitive lawn, so do your best to leave the snow where it fell. However, you don’t want to add to the natural snow cover when plowing your driveway.